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Front covers: still front page news?

Front covers: still front page news?

Have front covers lost their edge? As more and more news migrates online, it would be easy to think they might have.

When it comes to online news, not only is there no fixed “front cover” on most newspaper websites - which are updated throughout the day. The news that goes on a newspaper’s homepage is also not necessarily what pulls in the audience.

“Seventy-five percent of uniques are coming from external sources, only 25 percent are coming to the homepage,” said Google’s head of news products Richard Gingras, in a recent discussion about online journalism at the Paley Center’s international council of media executives, quoted by paidContent

As a consequence, the virility of certain stories on social media, rather than their appearance on the front page of the paper, is arguably what is determining the news agenda. A recent infographic feature on Mashable implied that traffic to news sites from social media platforms has increased by 57% since 2009, and suggested that over 50% of American’s have learned about breaking news through social media, rather than from a traditional news source. Of course there is a difference between spreading breaking news, and determining which news is important, but arguably, social media is now becoming the forum for both. Do these changes mean that page 1 has lost its role in setting the news agenda?

Perhaps this is true for daily newspapers. But a few recent stories have shown that magazine front covers are still very much capable of making a splash. The first is the cover of Time Magazine, which shows a 26-year-old mother breast-feeding her almost four-year-old son. The image, which as Poynter points out was only loosely connected to the content of the lead story, has generated a massive response. Actress Alyssa Milano tweeted to more than 2 million followers that the cover was “exploitive and extreme." Financial Times columnist Gillian Tett called the cover “a really cheap shot” when she appeared on the talk show “Morning Joe”, as the New York Post reports. Forbes published an article asking “Will Time's Breastfeeding Cover Be Bad For Business?” And Gawker, choosing not to beat around the bush, published a story titled “Mom Puts Boob in Preschooler’s Mouth on Cover of Time”. All of this discussion is despite the fact that the article itself is behind a paywall, and is presumably not accessible to plenty of the people who are talking about it. 

Newsweek magazine’s latest cover has also generated coverage. Leading into an article about the US President’s endorsement of gay marriage, written by political blogger Andrew Sullivan, the cover shows Obama wearing with a rainbow-colour halo with the headline “The First Gay President”. The image prompted comments from The Huffington Post, The Hill, Gawker, Politico and NYDailyNews, which discuss Sullivan’s writing and compare the headline to Toni Morrison’s famous description of Bill Clinton as “the first black president”.

Both covers show that, although the way we access the news has changed, magazine covers still have an important role to play in sparking debate and conversation. Keith Kelly at the New York Post quotes Time’s Editor-In-Chief Rick Stengel, who says, “you want people to be having that conversation. The idea of all magazine covers is to get people to pay attention to what is inside.” When it comes to this week's magazine covers, it looks like it's mission accomplished.

Sources: PaidContent, Mashable, Time, Gawker (1) (2), Forbes, The Huffington Post, Politico, The Hill, New York Post


Hannah Vinter's picture

Hannah Vinter


2012-05-14 16:35

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